"SOMEWHAT OF A miracle." That's how Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici described the accord reached by budget conferees on Monday night. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but miraculous things can happen when hard- working legislators sit down in a spirit of comity to work out their differences.
As they move the budget resolution toward passage by the full Congress, congressional leaders will still have to overcome the same obstacle that has impeded progress thus far. That obstacle is the president, who apparently sees more political advantage in disrupting congressional attempts to curb the deficit than in providing the leadership for a reasonable compromise.
Congress has every reason to feel aggrieved by the president's behavior, since the poor choices that it faces--the need to cut spending, raise taxes and still face enormous deficits--are so much the administration's doing. Nor does the president's current position make much substantive sense. For example, on taxes, the resolution calls for $12 billion more in revenues next year than the president's budget. The president says those taxes will hurt the recovery. But it is inconceivable that a $12 billion tax increase will have any negative effect on a $3 trillion economy already fueled by three years of massive deficit spending. It might, however, have the beneficial result of calming the interest rate, which is already showing renewed signs of anxiety over the prospect of uncontrolled future deficits. As for the tax increases proposed for subsequent years, in opposing them the president is essentially contradicting his own budget--or giving further plausibility to the notion that his "standby" taxes were only window dressing to diminish the gargantuan deficits that would otherwise have been evident.
For the military, the resolution would boost annual spending authority to $268.6 billion, an increase of $24 billion. Actual purchases next year would rise still faster because of the huge backlog of weapons buying authorized in the last few years. If that amount of money is, as White House spokesman Larry Speakes says, "way too low to defend the country," then some major changes in the Pentagon's buying strategy are clearly in order.
The resolution does reject about $12 billion in domestic spending cuts that the president sought. But those cuts had no support in either house or either party. A reserve fund of several billion dollars could also be used for jobless aid, but the president will have the opportunity to veto such aid if Congress decides to authorize it.
The budget conferees deserve much credit for persisting in their efforts to put the federal budget on a sounder course. If those efforts are now stymied, they will at least have made it clear that it is the president, and not Congress, who is uninterested in budget control.